You’ve already heard about The Most Toxic Stuff At The Nursery, but what about the stuff that’s really, really great? To find out which items pro gardeners just can’t put a price on, we spoke with Maggie Saska, plant production specialist at The Rodale Institute. Here are her top picks for items you’ll be raving about to all your gardener friends.
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You won’t regret shelling out a little extra cash for these must-have items.
A high-quality, organic fish emulsion, like Neptune’s Harvest Hydrolized Fish Fertilizer, tops Saska’s list of must-have garden essentials. It comes as a liquid, so it’s really easy to apply, and it will give plants a big nutrient boost. “Fish emulsion is like the Miracle-Gro of organics,” Saska says.
Saska says that many gardeners bypass the crucial step of testing their soil at the start of every growing season. Instead of scattering seeds and hoping for the best, doing a simple soil test with a kit like Luster Leaf Rapitest can clue you in on the nutrient composition and pH of your soil so you can make appropriate adjustments, significantly upping your chances of having a big harvest come fall.
Never underestimate the difference a set of quality pruners can make when it’s time to clean up your flower beds in the fall or trim back branches in winter and spring. For Saska, it’s important to find an item that feels comfortable in your hand and is going to last. “I like buying tools with replaceable parts. That way you don’t have to throw it away if a small piece breaks,” she says. “Also, keep in mind that your hand is going to get tired after awhile, especially if you have a smaller grip. Find something that feels comfortable for you.” One of her favorites is the Florian Ratchet Pruner because it allows you to cut through thick branches with little pressure.
An organic insecticidal soap, like Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer, is great for targeting soft-bodied insects like aphids, grubs, and caterpillars that like to chew through leaves. It’s a safe and effective alternative to pesticides made from hazardous synthetic chemicals.
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A Japanese-style digging knife is one of the most versatile garden tools, Saska says. It’s great for dividing perennials, attacking weeds, digging out rocks—and those are just a few of the uses. Saska recommends the A.M. Leonard brand of digging knives because they’re sturdy, lightweight, and the handle is bright orange, so you’ll never lose it in the vegetable garden.
Instead of using whatever bag of potting soil you have leftover from last year to get your cherry tomatoes started, purchase an organic mix specifically designed for seedlings, such as Epsoma Organic Seed Starter. “You want a nice, light organic seed-starting mix that allows for drainage and aeration. Regular potting mixes can be too heavy for starting seeds because they’re made with more compost and garden soil,” Saska says.
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As long as you have a garden, you’ll be battling weeds. There’s just no way around it. Saska likes to keep a Cobrahead Weeder on hand for tackling deep roots and prying out weeds from tight spaces. “Choose items that are lightweight, durable, and well balanced," she says. "You want it to feel really good in your hand.”